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Huskies bounce back with five-set upset over No. 5 Illinois

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Avie Niece tips the ball over the net for a point in Washington's match against Arizona State on Nov. 2, 2018. Niece led Washington with four blocks in the Huskies' five-set win over No. 5 Illinois, and hit a perfect 7-for-7.

The No. 16 Washington volleyball team upset No. 5 Illinois in five sets on Friday, coming back from a 2-1 deficit to beat the Illini. It was exactly the kind of match the Huskies were looking for against the fifth-ranked team in the country. 

“They know how to win close matches, so what a great test to follow up Hawaii,” head coach Keegan Cook said of Illinois on Tuesday. “An opponent whose won some matches recently that we want to be winning.”

The fifth set was back-and-forth, with neither team ceding an error until an attack error by Illinois’ Beth Prince nearly halfway through. After that, however, the Huskies (3-1) took control of the set with seven straight points. The six point deficit was one Illinois couldn’t come back from, and the Huskies took the match. 

Senior hitter Kara Bajema had 25 kills, including eight of Washington’s 11 kills in the fifth set. She also had three blocks, including a solo block. Senior middle blocker Avie Niece hit 7-for-7 with no errors for a perfect 1.000 hitting percentage and added four blocks. 

This is the Huskies’ third time playing Illinois in as many years, and their first win. The past two meetings resulted in tough losses for Washington, especially the five-set loss that ended the 2017 season early in the tournament. 

The win against Illinois is Washington’s first over a top-5 team since beating Stanford in that same 2017 season. It’s a bounce back from a 3-1 loss to then-unranked Hawaii last weekend — what the Huskies were looking for this week. 

The Huskies started the match with four straight points, and that set the tone for the rest of the first set, where Washington completely dominated. They maintained a 1.000 hitting percentage well into the set and finished at .593, with 18 kills. Illinois attempted a comeback late in the set, but couldn’t complete it, and the Dawgs took the match lead.

The second set was a step down in terms of Washington offense, or a step up in Illinois defense. The UW’s number of kills was halved from the first set, and they hit .125. The Huskies fought off three match points before Illinois took the set and not much turned around in the third set. Washington hit a flat .000, with eight kills and eight attack errors. 

Illinois jumped out to an early lead in the fourth set, but Washington came back strong with an eight point run that included three straight kills by Bajema and an ace by junior Maria Bogomolova. After that, the Illini (3-1) couldn’t catch up to the Huskies, who tied up the match to send it to a deciding fifth set. 

Washington will play Iowa on Saturday at 5 p.m. 

Reach Engagement Editor Hailey Robinson at Twitter: @haileyarobin

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